Wednesday, February 5, 2020


Camilla Colombi, La necropoli di Vetulonia nel periodo orientalizzante. Italik√°, 5. Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 2018. Pp. 406; 124 p. of plates. ISBN 9783954902675. €168.00.

Reviewed by Ross Cowan (

Version at BMCR home site

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On the day of Corpus Christi in 1880, Isidoro Falchi looked upon the Cyclopean remains at Colonna di Buriano and knew that he had finally located an Etruscan city lost for seven centuries: Vetulonia. Despite being a self-taught archaeologist (he was a medical doctor by profession), Falchi's publications about this great discovery resulted in his appointment as Ispettore degli scavi of the Ministero della Pubblica Istruzione. From 1884 to 1913, he conducted 34 campaigns of excavation in the Villanovan, Orientalising and later cemeteries at Vetulonia, and investigated the remains and extent of the city in its Etruscan and Roman phases. As a result of Falchi's fabulous discoveries, Colonna was renamed Vetulonia by royal decree in 1887.

Falchi died in 1914. Thereafter excavation of the city and cemeteries of Vetulonia was sporadic and limited in scope (e.g. the campaigns of Doro Levi in 1926 or Anna Talocchini in the late 1950s and 1960s), or focused on the re-investigation of sites previously explored by Falchi. In La necropoli di Vetulonia nel periodo orientalizzante, Camilla Colombi emphasises the fundamental importance of Falchi's excavations and the need for a thorough reconstruction of his campaigns and re-examination of finds in order to understand the history, culture and changing social structure of Vetulonia in the Orientalising period. This is a daunting task, for Falchi's excavation records, though meticulous, are incomplete and the 1966 floods damaged and disordered many of his finds, which were housed in the Museo Archeologico in Florence.

After a brief introduction, in Chapter 2 Colombi discusses the debate concerning the location of Vetulonia and Falchi's rediscovery of the city. She then undertakes the major task of reconstructing Falchi's excavation campaigns, considers the practice of archaeology in the later nineteenth century (she is impressed by Falchi's diligent method), and surveys subsequent excavations and research. Colombi then moves on to the geography and topography of Vetulonia, and looks at the city's ready access to the sea by the lacus Prelius lagoon. A rapid survey follows of the site of Vetulonia in the Bronze and Iron Ages, through the Villanovan and Orientalising periods, the Archaic and Classical eras, and finally its Hellenistic and Roman phases. Colombi then considers the topography of the city's cemeteries and explains how she produced her detailed map of known tombs and burials, which allows the necropolis to be treated as a whole.

Colombi moves on to the Orientalising tombs, funeral rituals and grave goods in Chapter 3. Typologies are established: of tombs, based on the surviving structures (circoli predominate initially, giving way to chamber tombs and grand tumuli); and of grave goods (type A – tableware and containers; B – jewellery and dress accessories; C – weapons, utensils and other status insignia; D – chariot parts and equine harness; E – various objects of uncertain type or function). Groups of finds are verified and assigned to tombs/individual burials.

In Chapter 4, Colombi sets about dating burials and associated grave goods and assigns them to five phases for the Orientalising period (c. 720-575 BC).1 She then proceeds to consider the various grave assemblages by type (insignia of rank, weapons, tools, items relating to sacrifice and feasting, keimelia and other symbolic elements that illustrate the emergence, character and development of princely and gentilicial society and culture in Vetulonia).

From this, Colombi can demonstrate how, in the later Villanovan period, the elite families of Vetulonia sought to differentiate themselves by grouping their burials in stone circles. Around 700 BC, the first generation of the Orientalising era were buried (Colombi's phase 2b). The occupant of the Circolo del Tridente was buried in a prominent and previously unattested position at Costiaccia Bambagini, with the full panoply of insignia (including the impressive trident from which the tomb takes its name), chariots, arms and luxury goods of the new princely culture. This circle tomb established the focus for the burial of subsequent generations of his family/kin group. This, then, was the tomb of a founding father of a gens. Elite and princely graves dominate the record of the seventh century BC at Vetulonia but, in contrast to the Villanovan era, there are far fewer burials, and the lower classes are entirely absent from the archaeological record of the Orientalising necropolis. Formal burial and visible commemoration had become the preserve of the aristocrat. The high point of this princely culture is marked by Colombi's phase 3 (c. 690-660 BC). This was a society concerned with hierarchy and wealth and it had far- reaching trading and diplomatic contacts. Rich and exotic grave goods illustrate Vetulonia's connections with southern Etruria, Sardinia, the Po Valley, Central Europe and the Cypro-Phoenician world.

Colombi detects a change in phase 4 (c. 660-640 BC). The number of tombs drops, especially those of elite females. Males continue to be characterised as warriors; Greek hoplite-type equipment makes its first appearance (e.g. the Corinthian helmet and bronze greaves from the Primo Circolo delle Pellicce, fossa 2). In phase 5 (c. 640-620 BC) and phase 6 (c. 620 to the early decades of the sixth century BC), Colombi demonstrates how the aristocracy of Vetulonia increasingly chose to advertise their wealth and power through the monumental architecture of stone-built chamber tombs in which successive generations could be interred. As with the earliest Orientalising tombs, prominent and highly visible locations that could be seen from land and lagoon were sought for these monuments to gentilicial identity and power; the Tumulo della Pietrera is an early and particularly grand example. Grave goods diminish in number but still reflect the warrior ideology of the elite. Among the spear and javelin heads in the appropriately named Circolo delle Lance (phase 5) is an interesting example of a proto-pilum. As the Orientalising period drew to a close (phase 6), the inscribed and figured tomb marker neatly encapsulated the rank, martial prowess and family/clan heritage of the deceased. The stele of Auvele Feluskes from the Circolo del Guerriero cannot have been the only example. Colombi does not become embroiled in discussion about the difficulties of the inscription (e.g. Feluskes/Pheluskes as patronymic, gentilicium or ethnonym, and the status and origin of the dedicant, Hirumina), and what it might suggest about the nature of militarised gentes at the turn of the Orientalising and Archaic eras, and the phenomenon of elite horizontal social mobility in Central Italy.

Columbi closes with concluding remarks about method and findings in the succinct Chapter 5.

This handsomely produced volume is profusely illustrated and the accompanying CD contains two extensive catalogues in searchable PDF format (tombs; grave goods by type). The list of contents is detailed and there is an index of tombs, but it is included as column 14 within the second of the two concordances. To consult the concordances, the book has to be turned 90 degrees. An index of subjects would have been useful for quick consultation. That is a minor quibble. Colombi is to be congratulated on producing an essential resource for the understanding, and future study, of Orientalising Vetulonia and its necropolis.


1.   Colombi's phases 2-6 represent the Orientalising period. Phase 1 concerns late Villanovan with subsequent Orientalising burials. Phase 7 denotes early Archaic, evolving from Orientalising grave groups.

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